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Car Styling and the Connoisseur

2017 Ford GT

Every so often, automobile manufacturers create a car that celebrates a bygone era like Plymouth’s PT Cruiser and Prowler, or honors an important vehicle from the company’s history like Volkswagen’s Beetle and the Chevrolet Camaro. While these are fun styling exercises that capture the hearts of sentimental consumers, they can be a difficult act to follow. What must the next generation look like? Should they make radical changes, or evolutionary ones? If it is to be an evolution, should it spawn from the generation that came after the vintage product, or evolve from the retro design that it replaces?

Ford Motor Company has had to answer these questions recently. In 2005 and 2006, they offered the beautiful Ford GT. From a nostalgic standpoint as well as an aesthetic one, the design was a success. It successfully took all of the styling and character of the original and modernized it just enough to look contemporary. The car was so well received, that it became one of the only exotic cars of its era that didn’t go down in value.

What to do for an encore? We spoke with Garen Nicoghosian, Exterior Design Manager on the 2016 Ford GT to get the scoop. “ The design of the 2005 car served as a bridge to the new design, which is future-minded. The new Ford GT is the poster child for innovation. It is the spirit of Ford’s innovations in engineering, styling, aerodynamics, and lightweighting,” said Nicoghosian.

Ford GT at NAIAS

Front Three-Quarter

  1. As sexy as it is, form still follows function on this car. Every air intake has a corresponding exhaust port. This large intake funnels air through the radiator and brake ducts. The air exits out of the top of the hood and over the roof. Look closely, and you will see a nearly straight line from the beveled chin, through the air extractors and up over the windshield.
  2. The shark nose, the rectangular shapes in the headlamps, and the shape of the air extractors for the radiator are the visual clues connecting modern car to the original, yet they do it in a way that doesn’t look dated.
  3. The front and rear fender curves apex slightly before the centerline of the wheels to create tension. This is where it really takes a skilled designer to create the shape. Every curved line on a car should accelerate. In other words, the arc should be tighter at one end or the other. If the apex is dead center on a consistent arc, the line loses its “snap” and the car will lose any appearance of speed.
  4. There is a bit of a brow line across the top of the headlights that subtly angles down and forward, giving the car an aggressive scowl while defining a volume that extends all the way down the body to the back of the car. A similar brow line and corresponding form can be found in the original GT-40. On both cars, these fender bulges were designed with restraint and balance nicely with the gently sloping shallow surface in between, successfully avoiding the cartoonish forms found on 1960s European exotics.
  5. The wheels are a double five spoke design. The thin spokes communicate the lightness of the vehicle, while their wide, parallel spacing connotes strength.
  6. Functionally, the flying buttresses add strength to the back of the car while housing the ducts that deliver cool air to heat exchangers. Aesthetically, they unify the design with a dramatic line that wraps around the greenhouse, then kinks sharply at the quarter panel before dropping down to a sharp crease above the rocker panel. If you squint, that upper kink is reminiscent of the air intake above the quarter panel on an original GT-40.
  7. Air curtains create the appearance of width and clean up the airflow around the front of the car.

Ford GT - FIA World Endurance Championship

Plan View- Often overlooked, the most dramatic view for most exotic cars is looking straight down on them.

  1. Small frontal area is key to an efficient aero package. While the front of the car has to be wide to fit the tires, the greenhouse is kept narrow to punch a smaller hole through the air.
  2. Rather than a big, thirsty V-8 like the original GT-40, a high-horsepower twin turbo Ecoboost V-6 packs more power and its small size makes it possible to taper the fuselage towards the back of the car and end it with a pair of exhaust tips.
  3. The large rear tires are housed in pontoons that are separated from the rest of the body, creating channels for the air to flow through. The wide “hips” created by this design harkens back to the original car.
  4. The unique architecture of the body created an opportunity for the design team to play with the negative space between shapes. This relationship between the forms is most obvious in the red, white and blue livery of the LeMans race car. The overall effect is a “lean, cut, athletic shape that is more MMA fighter than heavyweight boxer,” according to Nicoghosian.

Ford GT_rear flat

Rear view

  1. The rear lights are a throwback to the large, round lenses that Ford used on most of their cars in the early 1960s, only this time they are loaded with technology. A ring of LEDs surround outlets for heat exchangers, and have the visual effect of afterburners on full blast.
  2. The high mounted central exhaust is another nod to the original, and are sort of the exclamation point at the end of the dramatically tapered central fuselage. Mounting the exhaust up high allows for a proper diffuser under the rear fascia to straighten out the air coming from under the car.
  3. The masterfully bent surfaces on the corners create triangular holes to let more air escape the engine compartment. Many of the intricate shapes seen throughout the body exist only because they are made of carbon fiber which can be formed in far more complex shapes than metal.

Ford GT_interior flat


  1. The gauge cluster appears to float along with a wing-like shape elevated above the rest of the instrument panel. Inside the floating mass is where the antennas live.
  2. Like a modern race car, Ford designers chose to put as many controls on the steering wheel as was possible. Turn signal and wiper stalks can get in the way. By making these features more accessible on the front of the wheel, the driver is able to concentrate on driving. Shift paddles take their place and can be larger when there are no stalks to compete with. While many modern exotics coddle their occupants with heavy leather and fancy finishes, the Ford GT is all business. Carbon fiber appears throughout the interior because the tub is made out of it. The material therefore comes off as purposeful rather than cliché.
  3. The seats have leather bolsters, but the back and bottom are covered in Alcantara which grips occupants and keeps them firmly planted.
  4. The seats locked into place where they optimize the sight lines and the pedals and steering wheel move to accommodate drivers of many sizes. “Ultimately, fixed seat bottoms allow for the lowest, narrowest setup possible within the limits of occupant arrangement, safety, etc., helping us achieve the smallest possible frontal area.”


Written by Chris Brown

Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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